Russia announces ‘Ukrainian spy and saboteur’ arrests while accusing Ukraine of a military build-up in Donbas
Russia’s Security Service [FSB] reported on 2 December that it had ‘broken up intelligence and sabotage activities by Ukraine’s Security Service ‘ in three Russian regions. Three Ukrainians have been arrested, with the only proof of such alleged activities coming from ‘videoed confessions’ made by men totally under the control of the FSB. In reporting the new FSB announcements on 2 December, the independent Russian website Grani.ru was blunt in linking them with the negotiations in Stockholm between Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and the US State Secretary Anthony Blinken as part of a meeting of OSCE Foreign Ministers. “In order that the negotiations in Stockholm go successfully, it’s necessary to announce the capture of three ‘Ukrainian spies’; report the latest harsh sentence in ‘the case of Ukrainian saboteurs’; use missile launchers in Donbas and ensure new losses”. While western leaders are expressing concern over the huge Russian military presence on Ukraine’s border, a glance at Russian state media would suggest that it is Ukraine that is ‘planning aggression’
Father and son
The FSB claims that two of the men – Zinoviy Koval (b. 1974) and his son Ihor Koval (b. 1999) are agents of Ukraine’s Security Service, or SBU. One of the many implausible claims made during the men’s ‘confessions’. Is that they were ‘recruited’ by an officer of the SBU in the Ternopil oblast, colonel Vasyl Kovalik. He is supposed to have given them the task of gathering information about strategic sites for payment of ten thousand USD.
Why this would be organized by a regional SBU officer in one of the poorest western oblasts of Ukraine is not clear, nor why the information they were supposed to be gathering would have been worth ten thousand USD. The father and son are alleged to have “arrived on Russian territory in order to gather information and take photos and videos of strategically important vital enterprises and transport infrastructure.”
The FSB claim that they found “short-barrelled and automatic weapons in the car that they were using, as well as means of individual defence which have been sent for expert assessment.”
The FSB often make very grandiose claims which are later quietly forgotten, and it is to be hoped that the supposed weapons will later be omitted.
It is also asserted that the FSB detained “an agent of Ukraine’s Defence Ministry Central Intelligence Department, of HUR, directed at the territory of our country in order to carry out an act of terrorism.”
The story here is even more implausible. The man, Oleksandr Tsilyk, b. 1998 and from Kyiv oblast, is supposed to have been recruited and acted on the instructions of lieutenant colonel Maksym Kirilovets. The alleged ‘terrorist attack’ was supposed to be through blowing up two homemade devices, with a shared mass of 1.5 kilograms of TNT equivalent. Most bizarrely, it is claimed that Tsilyk, together with the lieutenant colonel and two military intelligence officers actually crossed over into ‘the Russian Federation’ “to discover hiding places and send the homemade devices to Russia”.
It was, however, when Tsilyk purportedly returned to Russia that he was “caught red-handed”.
It was first learned in September that Russia was holding a person whom they claimed to be a colonel in the Ukrainian Armed Forces. The original information came from lawyer Nikolai Polozov who reported that the man was sharing a cell with political prisoner Ivan Yatskin. It became clear that this ‘Shvydenko’ had been added to the Memorial Human Rights Centre text about recognized political prisoners Volodymyr Dudka and Oleksiy Besarabov. It is, however, unclear when he came to be mentioned as Dudka’s defence lawyer, Sergey Legostov does not recall hearing of such an individual during the trial and appeal.
Russia is claiming that ‘Serhiy Shvydenko’ (b. 1969) is a senior Ukrainian HUR officer and that some unspecified court has found him “guilty of planning crimes against the security of the Russian Federation and sentenced him to 6.6 years’ imprisonment in a harsh regime prison colony.”
The FSB goes on to claim that Shvydenko, from mainland Ukraine, coordinated the plans and oversaw a ‘sabotage group’ aimed at what the FSB call ‘Russian territory’, although they are, in fact, alleging activities in occupied Crimea. The report mentions the arrests of five Ukrainians: Dmytro Shtyblikov; Oleksiy Bessarabov and Volodymyr Dudka, who were seized on 9 November 2016, and two other men: Oleksiy Stohniy and Hlib Shabliy, who were arrested a little later.
Dmytro Shtyblikov, an internationally-known Black Sea expert, was held incommunicado and prevented from seeing an independent lawyer until, under immense pressure and, reportedly, threats against his family, he agreed to plead ‘guilty’. He was sentenced to five years, however at the end of 2020, the FSB suddenly announced that they were bringing ‘treason’ charges against him.
Oleksiy Bessarabov (b. 1976) and Volodymyr Dudka (b. 1964) are both serving horrific 14-year sentences.
Although Shtyblikov’s acceptance, under pressure and without a lawyer, of the charges has meant that he is not formally recognized as a Memorial Human Rights Centre political prisoner, all of the other men are (or were, since Stohniy and Shabliy have now been freed). The release of Bessarabov; Dudka and Shtyblikov is repeatedly demanded by international bodies and democratic countries.
Russia is now claiming that Serhiy Shvydenko was seized in July 2021 and that he ‘confessed’ to organizing sabotage “on Russian territory” and that the operation was led by his direct boss, Mykola Slodar.
Although some kind of information was clearly circulated earlier, since the Memorial Human Rights Centre added Shvydenko to its report on Dudka and Bessarabov, this is the first official mention of the alleged Ukrainian intelligence officer.